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Photo by Cherie Langlois
Hazelnuts, or filberts, grow well here in our area, so we’re planning to plant some trees on our farm this coming year.
I’ve nearly finished the National Geographic book Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants (2008), and so thought I’d regale you with a few more interesting facts from the last section I read. Serendipitously (don’t you just love that word?), the category of plant foods covered in this section included some delicious and healthy edibles bound to put on a short-lived appearance at many Christmas parties and feasts this week. (Indeed, one stars in the favorite holiday recipe I’ve shared below.)
I’m talking about nuts, the nutrient-dense seeds of hard-shelled fruits that have been valued as rich, versatile food sources since ancient times. Check this out:
- The Brazil nut tree, indigenous to the South American rain forest, can grow to an impressive 150 feet in height and produces 2 to 4 pound fruits, which each contain 12 to 24 nuts.
- Another South American native, the peanut ranks as one of the world’s leading food crops (and one of my favorite foods). Botanically classed as a legume, peanuts grow from above-ground plants whose flowers are pulled underground as the peanut develops.
- The cashew is really weird: The comma-shaped nuts of this tropical tree grow from the bottom of the apple-like fruit, rather than on the inside.
- The pecan tree, once an important food source for Native Americans, can reach 100 feet in height and produce 900 pounds of pecans a year.
Here’s a yummy holiday dish that features pecans and sweet potatoes (another of my favorite edibles) that I’ll be making for my family’s Christmas dinner this year (with thanks to my mom’s friend Jane for the recipe).
Recipe: Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Pecans
- 8 cups mashed cooked sweet potato (about 4 to 5 large potatoes peeled, cut up and boiled until soft)
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. paprika
- 4 T. half and half (or cream)
- 2/3 cup butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- About 3 cups pecan halves
Mix together the first four ingredients in a large bowl and spread in a rectangular 12- by 8- by 2-inch casserole dish. Melt the butter and blend in the brown sugar. Drizzle the butter/sugar mixture over the sweet potatoes and stud the entire top with rows of pecan halves. Bake until bubbling, about 45 minutes at 350 degrees F.
Wishing you a Merry Christmas!